Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
Asta Eicher is widowed with three children and in danger of losing her home in Park Ridge, Illinois. Knowing that the relationship she had with her husband was not an ideal, or even happy one, she is hoping for better luck the second time around. She believes she found the perfect husband; he’s kind, loving and has the means to support her and her children. She found him through a dating agency in the newspaper and they have been corresponding for months. Finally the day comes for them to meet and she leaves with him in his car for his home and marriage. A couple of weeks later he returns to Illinois for the children, without their mother, to bring them to live with them. Asta Eicher and her children are never seen alive again.
The story is based on true events. There are photographs interspersed throughout the book of the Eicher family as well as the small town of Quiet Dell, West Virginia to remind the reader that these crimes were really committed. The warnings about online dating and meeting in public places are so commonplace today, but back then, in the 1930s, the idea of serial killers and sexual predators was unthinkable.
The story moves quickly and is told in a very literary style, yet it is more disturbing than most thrillers because you know it actually happened. As with most real events it almost seems too weird to be true like having the trial take place in an opera house on stage because it was the largest venue around. There are some very unconventional characters for the time, a gay reporter and an independent, sexually active single female among others. At first I didn’t think they fit well in the time period, since they were definitely not the norm of the time, but it really worked. America is changing and you get that sense throughout the book, especially with the loss of the sense of innocence around this small town in West Virginia shocked by multiple murders in their midst.